Cricket: New season of the County Championship gets underway

Ahhh, the glorious British spring and summer. The winter has gone, the sun shines brightly, colourful flowers brighten up our villages and meadows, birds sing merrily in the trees, warm beer is drunk in a pretty garden of an 800-year-old pub - and cricket is back.

The new Liverpool Victoria County Championship season has started today, and the Daily Mail's Chris Foy gives us his preview.

The Championship is divided into two divisions - Division One and Division Two, with promotion and relegation between the two divisions.

Division One consists of Durham, Hampshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Sussex, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Yorkshire.

Division Two consists of Derbyshire, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Kent, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire and Surrey.

Current English champions Durham are the favourites to win the championship again, especially with West Indies great Shivnarine Chanderpaul joining the team in June.

Kent are the favourites to win Division Two and be promoted to Division One, and amongst the favourites to be relegated from Division One are Worcestershire and Warwickshire, who were both promoted last season.

One to watch: Durham can claim top spot again if Harmison hits form and Di Venuto keeps ticking over


By Chris Foy
15th April 2009
Daily Mail

Durham will be hoping Michael Di Venuto is in free scoring form this season

Durham's maiden championship triumph last season was the pinnacle of a remarkable summer of consistency, in which they also finished third in the Pro40 League and reached the semi-finals of the Friends Provident Trophy and the Twenty20 Cup.

This year, there is every reason to believe they will mount a successful defence of their title. Of course, their hopes depend in part on the whims of the national selectors, in the perennial debate about whether or not Steve Harmison should be trusted to act as England's fast-bowling spearhead.

Should the big Geordie be denied his dream of another crack at the Australians, his personal loss will undoubtedly be Durham's gain.

In 2008, Harmison contributed 60 championship wickets at an average of 22 to provide further proof that he remains capable of terrorising county batsmen.

However, if he is called into Ashes action this year, there are others at the Riverside who can take up the slack. Liam Plunkett is one, having revived his fortunes to the extent that he toured with England Lions over the winter. Another is Graham Onions, who missed much of last season through injury.

The batting should again have a reliable feel, with the continued presence of last year's captain and Wisden Cricket of the Year, Dale Benkenstein; the prolific Australian, Michael Di Venuto and Guyana's run machine, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

The arrival of Ian Blackwell from Somerset adds more substance to the middle order, as he showed with the season's first hundred, against MCC last week.

Any number of counties could emerge from a crowded chasing pack as the principal challengers to Durham's crown.

Yorkshire have the pedigree to mount a strong campaign under the leadership of Anthony McGrath. They have ample class in the shape of Michael Vaughan and Jacques Rudolph, Adil Rashid and Matthew Hoggard, although they, too, will be at the mercy of England selections.

Other potential title-chasers include Nottinghamshire, Justin Langer's well-drilled Somerset and a Sussex team strengthened by the arrival of Ed Joyce from Middlesex.

Hampshire have added nous with the acquisition of Dominic Cork and could emerge as dangerous outsiders.

At Old Trafford, former England coach Peter Moores begins the process of reviving his reputation after his New Year dismissal by the ECB.

He will be desperate to galvanise Lancashire with all the energy and attention to detail which worked wonders during his time at Sussex, in the hope of ending the Red Rose county's 74-year title wait.


Hampshire: 76-4
Worcestershire: 132
At the Rose Bowl (Day 1 of 4)

Somerset: Yet to bat
Warwickshire: 189-3
At Taunton (Day 1 of 4)
************************************************** *******************

Let's bowl 'em over: Adams banks on big names as fallen giants Surrey seek rapid return to top flight


When Chris Adams agreed to take the reins at Surrey during the winter, he would have been enticed by the prestige of the manager’s post at The Oval. By now, though, he will have no doubt about the scale of the rebuilding job he has undertaken.

Last season’s dire campaign saw one of the country’s traditional heavyweight counties condemned to relegation without a victory to their name.

The circus surrounding Mark Ramprakash’s wait for a 100th first-class hundred did not help, but there could be no disguising the shocking paucity of their performances or the alarming lack of quality in their ranks.

Drastic measures were needed and the board duly swung into action. Alan Butcher was dismissed as coach and Surrey succeeded where Yorkshire failed by luring Adams away from Hove. The man who captained Sussex to championship glory three times in five years has fine Oval stalwarts alongside him in the shape of batting coach Graham Thorpe and Martin Bicknell, who will work with the fast bowlers.

The new-look management team have some experienced figures to work with, such as Jonathan Batty, Chris Schofield, Andre Nel, Alex Tudor and Usman Afzaal.

They will also hope that Chris Jordan begins to fulfil his outstanding all-round potential.

Ready to pounce: Chris Jordan can deliver the goods for Adams and Co

However, Surrey will have to lean heavily on academy graduates, and the push for
immediate promotion back to Division One will stand or fall on how quickly they bed in.

Essex are also likely to find themselves in the promotion shake-up, with a generation of young talent maturing together at Chelmsford buoyed by last year’s Friends Provident Trophy success.

Their challenge will be further enhanced if England decide they can do without the services of Ravi Bopara. Conversely, they may struggle if wicketkeeper James Foster does enough to translate his Performance Squad place into a full international recall.

Kent will surely feature among the front-runners despite their rapid fall from grace at the end of last season. However, they will not be able to count on a bundle of early-season wickets from Stuart Clark prior to his Ashes assignment — the seamer was called into Australia’s one-day squad last week, meaning his six-week stint at Canterbury has been cancelled.

Middlesex will be hoping for a telling contribution from their Aussie import and new batting sensation, Phillip Hughes. Captain Shaun Udal, all-rounder Tyron Henderson and Owais Shah — if released by England — bring vital experience to a squad otherwise awash with youthful promise.



Essex: Yet to bat
Derbyshire: 306-7
At Chelmsford (Day 1 of 4)

Leicestershire: Yet to bat
Northamptonshire: 297-6
At Grace Road (Day 1 of 4)

Surrey: Yet to bat
Gloucestershire: 321-8
At The Brit Oval (Day 1 of 4)

I'm hoping County Cric will be available on those web sites you gave me previously. That should be fun. Over the years, I have hear so much about County play but it has never been available on USA television.

For some reason, I thought Shiv Chanderpaul was going to play IPL this season but 40 overs is more challenging than 20/20 and he likely prefers that format. Recently, Shiv was granted the the Cacique Crown of Honor for his achievements as a player and good citizen by the government of Guyana. He is now 35 years of age but is so tireless that it appears he will not retire any time soon. As a big fan of Shiv and of the Windies, I sincerely hope he plays for a long, long time more!


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